New Decree is said to violate landmark Mother Earth law by opening up an additional 4.5 million hectares to cattle ranchers in El Beni department
Decree 3973 is expected to increase cattle production from three million to six million heads per year by 2030 in El Beni.
A new Bolivian Decree legalising
expanded land clearances for cattle and crops is legitimising ‘savage’
deforestation in violation of the country’s landmark Mother Earth law, a local
NGO has warned.
Decree 3973, passed in July, permits 4.5 million hectares of previously
protected private and community forest lands to be cleared in the northeast
region of El Beni.
El Beni governor Álex
Ferrier said the Decree doubles the land available for agriculture
production to 9 million hectares – the same level afforded to the central Santa
The two departments already
account for 74% of the South American nation’s cattle production, with El Beni
The Decree is expected
to increase cattle production from three million to six million heads
per year by 2030 in El Beni. Supporters hope the move will help take Bolivia
into the top 15 beef producers worldwide and tap into emerging markets as part
of a strategy to counter a slump in oil export revenues.
Its announcement came days after
officials signed a beef and cattle trade deal with China. A similar agreement
with Russia is mooted.
China purchased more than $4m of
beef from its five biggest importers – Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia
and New Zealand – in 2018, a 60% rise from 2017, trade
The president of Bolivia’s
Confederation of Livestock Producers, Óscar Ciro Pereira, said the country
could export as many as 500,000 heads of cattle per year under
the deal. The first exports are slated for August.
However, Pablo Solón, director of
the La Paz-based Solón Foundation, says the loosening of restrictions on
deforestation through Decree 3973 is legitimising already rampant deforestation
– both legal and illegal – in violation of the Mother Earth law.
“Bolivia has a law that is above
other laws – the law of Mother Earth – but the government doesn’t respect it,”
Solón told Earthsight: “Deforestation at this scale is a crime
against the rights of Mother Earth. If the law is applied as it should, the
legalisation of deforestation is a crime.”
The landmark Mother Earth law, passed in 2012, gives nature equal rights to humans and states that citizens must ‘respect, protect and guarantee’ the rights of nature.
Nonetheless, implementation has been poor, and Solón says “the deforestation
that is being carried out in Bolivia is completely anarchic, savage.”
The government has said it is
committed to eradicating illegal clearances and that illegal deforestation as a
proportion of total deforestation (estimated to be around 300,000 hectares per
year) dropped from 92% in 2012 to 64% in 2015.
However, Solón believes this
misses the point: “The fact that you legalise what is illegal, that’s what’s
bad. You commit a crime and I tell you ‘that’s no longer a crime’, [and] so
legalising the crime makes it disappear.”
Solón says that government data shows illegal
deforestation in El Beni in 2015 was 120,910 hectares – a 32% increase from
2012, and legal land clearances skyrocketed from 9600 hectares in 2012 to
83,092 hectares in 2015.
Forest Watch data shows Bolivia lost nearly five million hectares of
tree cover between 2001 and 2018, while land
used for agriculture and livestock had more than doubled to 6.7
The push to increase cattle
exports could also result in the 2013 perdonazo law being shelved.
Under the so-called “forgiveness” legislation, producers must reforest land if
they have carried out illegal land clearing for agriculture.
Pereira unsurprisingly welcomed the
possible rolling back of the law, but for Solón it represents another failure
of the government’s highly publicised reforestation efforts.
A 2016 initiative to plant 4.5
million hectares of trees by 2030 to reverse vegetation loss has failed spectacularly,
replanting only up to 15,000 hectares a year, of which only around 40% are
thought to survive, the Solón Foundation claims.
Challenging Decree 3973 and the
possible removal of the forgiveness law will not be easy in a country where the
executive branch of government has control over the judiciary and prosecutors.
Solón said: “If there’s no social
and international pressure on Bolivia, the government will carry on. The
government has more than two thirds to change the Supreme Court, district
courts, the prosecutors’ office. This is what it has been doing.”
Efforts to eradicate
deforestation are made harder-still while corrupt practices persist. In
media reported how a former forest official issued permits covering up
22,000 hectares of illegal land clearances for soy and cattle production in
On 8 August the UN’s Land and
Climate Change report concluded that a move to plant-based diets away from beef
and dairy consumption is required to achieve globally agreed climate targets.